A piece of property along the Kenai Spur Highway has been the cause of a lot of angst for Kenai residents since an offer was made to begin developing the lot last year. Some are feeling some relief following a council decision about the property last week.
The question of what to do with Lawton Acres in Kenai has been settled. Sort of. For now, anyway. At last week’s city council meeting, a third public hearing was held about an ordinance that would allow the city to buy the 16 and a half acre parcel for $600,000.
Initially, the whole discussion got off the ground because of an unsolicited offer to build a dentist’s office on a portion of the property along the Kenai Spur Highway. That offer has since been pulled off the table, but feelings are strong about how or when that plot should be developed.
“This is a piece of property that’s been zoned conservation since 1984," said Kenai resident Lynette Nickens. She lives in the neighborhood that has for years regarded Lawton acres, which is actually a part of the airport’s land, as a kind of buffer from the highway and commercial development.
“It is not being used by the airport. The airport can get revenue from some other land. Their concern is loss of an asset. The answer is to appropriately compensate them with money or land. It’s not to put a dentist’s office on Lawton acres," Nickens told the council.
That conservation tag spurred some debate. Over the years, as the plot has been left mostly undeveloped, it’s become home to the Field of Flowers and is now generally regarded as, if not a full-fledged park, some nice city green space.
But conservation meant something different to the airport commission 30 years ago. Glenda Feeken chairs that commission now.
“Conservation meant it was being conserved for future use. I don’t know how it evolved into the conception of a park, I think it just came along the way. But in reality, it belongs to the airport, it’s there to fund the airport. We’re not a state-owned airport; we don’t get funding from the state, we have to row our own boat, we have to have our own money.”
And the $600,000 the city was thinking of plunking down isn’t a good deal, according to some. Council member Henry Knackstedt said even if that figure is a relative bargain, it’s just not a good time for non-essential purchases.
“To my knowledge, there aren’t any other plans for the purchase of the property. The city/airport has had it since 1963, ‘64. It’s there today, it was there last week, it’s going to be there for some time. I just don’t see anything happening. It sounds like, again, we’re kicking the can down the road, however I think just financially speaking, it’s not the prudent thing for this body to do, to spend those funds right now.”
And most of the council agreed. The ordinance was defeated by a five to one vote, and the status quo will remain, at least for now.